Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off a statement win this week, the eighth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish are on the road on Saturday, as they take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in an ACC showdown at the Petersen Events Center.
Mike Brey's Irish picked up their 20th win of the season in impressive fashion, as they battled back from a double-digit deficit against fourth- ranked Duke on Wednesday to earn a 77-73 victory over the Blue Devils. The win was the fifth straight for the Irish and pushed the team to 20-2 on the season, with an 8-1 league ledger, good for second place behind No. 2 Virginia.
Jamie Dixon's Panthers are at the opposite end of the spectrum right now, trying to halt a three-game losing streak. Most recently, Pittsburgh fell in overtime at Virginia Tech on Tuesday, 70-67. With the loss, Pitt is now just 13-8 overall, with an ugly 3-5 record in the ACC thus far.
This marks the 60th all-time meeting between these two programs. The Irish hold a 31-28 series advantage. However, the Panther earned an 85-81 overtime victory last year to bring an end to a five-game win streak for Notre Dame in the series.
There aren't many teams in the nation that could win a shootout with Duke, but Notre Dame proved to be one of them. Standout guard Jerian Grant played a huge role in the win with some timely shots down the stretch to propel the Irish to victory. Grant finished the game with a 23 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. Zach Auguste added 14 points to the cause, Pat Connaughton recorded a double-double of his own with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Demetrius Jackson contributed 10 points for Notre Dame, which shot a sterling .518 from the floor against the Blue Devils.
There are very few teams more efficient than the Irish this season. Notre Dame is shooting .521 from the floor (second nationally), while averaging 81.6 ppg (ninth nationally). Scoring depth is apparent with four of the five starters averaging double figures. Grant is headed toward All-America honors and is a serious National Player of the Year candidate, averaging 17.4 ppg, while doling out 6.5 apg. Connaughton plays much bigger than he is (6-5), as he adds 13.8 ppg and 8.5 rpg. Auguste (13.7 ppg) and Jackson (13.3 ppg) provide even more offensive options.
Mediocre numbers produce mediocre results and that is where Pittsburgh lives right now. The Panthers are in the bottom half of the league in terms of scoring at 67.3 ppg, while allowing 64.0 ppg. There aren't any prolific scoring options on the roster, as Michael Young paces the team with 13.2 ppg, despite shooting over 50 percent from the field (.507). Young also tops the team in rebounding with just under eight caroms per contest (7.8). Jamel Artis (11.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) has elevated his game and is second on the team in both scoring and rebounding. James Robinson (10.1 ppg) rounds out the team's top scorers.
The Panthers allowed the Hokies to tie things up late and force overtime and then a Adam Smith 3-pointer with just three seconds left in the overtime session finally did in the visitors and kept Pittsburgh on a downward spiral. Artis had a strong outing in defeat, as he just missed a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds. Cameron Wright and Robinson checked in with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Young struggled offensively, finishing with just six points, but he did grab a team-high 10 rebounds.